Tooth Enamel: What It Is and How to Protect It

December 15, 2020

Enamel image

If you are a follower of this blog, you might already know that tooth enamel is the hardest and most mineralized substance in the human body. But what exactly does tooth enamel do? And why is it so important to keep it protected?

Today, we’re going to take a big bite (see what we did there?) into tooth enamel and tell you everything you need to know, from what it is, to what damages it and how we can protect it for years to come.


What exactly is tooth enamel?

In the bigger picture of your oral health, tooth enamel has a very important job: it protects teeth from erosion and decay. It is made of a thin and translucent layer of minerals, primarily hydroxyapatite, also known as calcium apatite. Hydroxyapatite makes up over 97% of tooth enamel, which has the distinction of being the hardest substance in your body and stronger than any bone.

But it is important to understand that just because enamel is the hardest substance you have doesn’t make it indestructible. This shield for our teeth is only as strong as the protection we give it.

What causes damage to enamel?

The primary causes of enamel erosion are acids that wear away at the protective layer around your teeth. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Popular beverages such as coffee, red and white wine, fruit juice and soda
  • Dry mouth
  • A diet high in sugars and starches
  • Acid reflux disease

Other causes of erosion include genetics, some medications (antihistamines, aspirin), misuse of whitening strips and friction caused by physical wear and tear.

 

Does enamel come back?

Remember how we said tooth enamel is stronger than any bone? Here’s the kicker: unlike our bones, tooth enamel has no living cells. Therefore, once enamel is gone, it’s gone.

Now, there are many products on the market, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, that claim to restore enamel through mineralization. However, since enamel cannot repair itself, the only way to prevent further damage to your teeth is by seeing your dentist. Depending on the severity of the erosion, they may recommend a procedure such as sealants, veneers or a crown.

That being said, there are products that can fortify your enamel through mineralization: this is different than restoring something that has been lost. Your dentist will be able to help make a recommendation on what is best for you.


How can enamel be protected?

Like with most things related to your overall well-being, prevention is the best tool in your arsenal. Luckily, some of the best ways to prevent tooth enamel erosion are also some of the easiest. Take the initiative and try folding these tips into your normal dental hygiene strategy:

Use toothpaste with fluoride

Fluoride is a great partner in the prevention of enamel erosion, as it works with the minerals in your saliva to strengthen the enamel lost to acidity. You can also get your dose of fluoride straight from the faucet: over 200 million Americans receive fluoride in their drinking water, a public health measure that was formally adopted in the 1950s.

Drink your morning joe through a straw

It might seem like a strange contrast to drink a hot beverage through a straw, but we promise, your teeth will thank you. As mentioned before, coffee is high in acidity, so using a straw allows you to bypass contact with your teeth. You can also use this trick with cooler beverages like soda, wine and juice.

Don’t brush immediately after a meal

It might sound crazy that a dental blog is telling you to not brush your teeth at any point in time, but trust us: it is better for your oral health! As soon as you have consumed something especially sweet or acidic, your tooth enamel begins to weaken. If you brush too soon afterward, your teeth will be in a vulnerable condition and the act of brushing can actually make it worse. Instead, swish your mouth with water afterward to help restore pH levels and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.

The bottom line: Tooth enamel is an incredibly strong layer of protection, but once it erodes, it does not regenerate. There is not a product or procedure that can restore lost enamel, but there are some that can help fortify what you have—your dentist can help guide you down the best path. Prevention is your best tool in protecting your tooth enamel.

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